The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says its doctrine on marriage will remain unchanged despite Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized gay marriage in five states, including Utah, and opened the door for legalization in six more. “As far as the civil law is concerned, the courts have spoken,” the church said in a statement reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Church leaders will continue to encourage our people to be persons of good will toward all, rejecting persecution of any kind based on race, ethnicity, religious belief or nonbelief, and differences in sexual orientation.”
In September, the Mormon church was among five religious organizations that filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the country’s high court to hear Utah’s appeal on gay marriage. The church was also a major player in supporting Proposition 8 in California in 2008 -- an amendment to the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Members of the church donated millions to support the amendment and made up 80 percent to 90 percent of volunteers who canvassed election precincts handing out pamphlets.
Now, the Mormon church has decided to let the legal battle go. Still, LDS emphasized the fact that the civil law will have “no effect on the doctrinal position or practices” of the church where marriage is “between a man and a woman.”
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, is not ready to call off the fight. Bishop John C. Wester from the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City told the Salt Lake Tribune that while he is “not a legal expert” he does not see the court’s decision as “a permanent solution."
Bishop Richard Malone and Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the decision “disappointing and surprising.” While they did not mention any further legal steps, the Catholic leaders reasserted the church’s stance of marriage being between a man and a woman, emphasizing the institution supports children “whose right to a mother and a father deserves the utmost legal protection.”
The Ethics & Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the other religious organizations that filed the amicus brief, posted a similar statement in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“In terms of response, the church must not jettison a Christian sexual ethic in order to acclimate to the cultural moment,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement. “Let’s hold fast to what the gospel reveals about the meaning of marriage and the gospel behind it.”
While the National Association of Evangelicals, another organization that joined the amicus brief, has not released an official statement since the ruling, socially conservative political groups have. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins expressed outrage about the decision.
"Unfortunately, by failing to take up these marriage cases, the high court will allow rogue lower court judges who have ignored history and true legal precedent to silence the elected representatives of the people and the voice of the people themselves by overturning state provisions on marriage,” he said adding the decision will lead to Americans experiencing “attacks on their religious freedom.”
"Congress should respond to today's announcement by moving forward with the State Marriage Defense Act,” he concluded referring to the piece of legislation introduced in January that would cede the definition of marriage to states for federal purposes.
Other conservative organizations like Liberty Counsel, the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family issued similar statements.
Unlike other U.S. Christian denominations that filed the amicus brief, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is centralized in Utah. About 85 percent of the state’s population belongs to the church. In the U.S. and around the world, members belong to tight, self-contained communities. However, with active members expected to tithe at least 10 percent of their income to the church, the LDS church is a behemoth raking in an estimated $7 billion annually. Still, its stance on gay marriage may not be as influential as that of Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, Lutherans and Catholics, who arguably have more impact on a broader societal dialog through faith-based schools, charities and social justice initiatives.
And while the LDS church has changed its stance in the past on social issues such as accepting African-American men as priests and disavowing polygamy, it remains unclear how the church would be able to reconcile a major change to its definition of marriage with central theological tenets. Heterosexual marriage is essential to the church's teachings on the family: According to LDS doctrine, familial relationships are eternal. Therefore, having children in this life -- either biologically or through adoption where a married man and woman are the child's parents -- means the bond will continue in the afterlife, an afterlife for which faithful Mormons prepare during their time on earth.
At the church’s semiannual general conference during the weekend, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles encouraged members to refrain from contentious public discourse if the Supreme Court’s decision does not fall in their favor.
“Like the savior, his followers are sometimes confronted by sinful behavior. And today, when they hold out for right and wrong as they understand it, they are sometimes called bigots and fanatics,” he said. “Prominent among these today is the strong tide that is legalizing same-sex marriage in many states, provinces in the United States and Canada and in many countries around the world. When our positions do not prevail, we should accept unfavorable results graciously, and practice civility with our adversaries."